It was my violent reaction to coming across the famous photograph in a newspaper that inspired the following poem. I assumed that my symptoms could be categorised as fairly typical ones associated with vertigo, or fear of heights in a more general sense. This, however, turned out not to be the case. In fact, I could not find my symptoms listed anywhere, with reference to vertigo! All the more reason, then, to try to describe them in the following poem:
LUNCH ATOP A SKYSCRAPER:
(A famous photograph, from 1932: eleven construction workers, sitting on a girder, 840 ft. above the New York City streets. They are having their lunch break. They eat from lunchboxes, smoke, joke, exchange gossip. They seem blithely unaware that their feet are dangling into empty space; uncaring of the yawning abyss below them.)
“Ten green bottles, hanging on a wall.
Ten green bottles, hanging on a wall.
And if one green bottle should accidentally fall . . .”
Relaxing on a Sunday; idle, free.
Browsing through a newspaper; but when I see
the dizzying scene, my viscera responds.
Out of control; too urgent, too strong.
Spasms in the groin, surging up through the pit
of the stomach; down the back of the thighs.
Surging, rippling, again and again.
An aching, a chilling, a hollowing pain.
I am on the girder, heart pounding, hands feel
for a hold, but fail, scrabble, slip on cold steel.
A puff of wind, loss of balance; suddenly, I am gone.
Falling, plummeting through the air, like a stone.
Memory of a dream I have dreamt before?
Memory of a death I have died before?
Or is it the thing I fear even more.
Presentiment of a fate I cannot forestall:
the closure of life in a dying fall?